Paraguay’s upset of Brazil in the quarter-finals sets up a clash with tournament favourites Argentina, with whom they shared a 2-2 draw in their opening group clash.
Having qualified for France 1998 and then the next three World Cups that followed, La Albirroja looked to be a burgeoning force on the international stage. Their second-place finish at the last Copa America seemed to underline the point, but they inexplicably fell away following the departure of former manager – and now Argentina’s coach – Gerardo Martino.
Paraguay (odds: 8.60) failed to qualify for the last World Cup and went through three managers until Ramon Diaz was tasked with restoring some pride.
Little was expected of Paraguay coming into this Copa America tournament. Diaz had been in charge for just three games and had not tasted victory. Yet his side showed plenty of character in coming back from 2-0 down to Argentina in the opening game.
Paraguay finally got off the mark with a 1-0 victory against Jamaica before securing a 1-1 draw with Uruguay in their final group game (the draw is available at 4.10).
While they came back from a goal down against Brazil in their quarter-final, they needed penalties to go through. Diaz’s record is therefore one win in seven internationals.
Argentina (1.47) topped the group but also required penalties to see off Colombia in their last-eight clash. It was a shootout that contained some of the best and worst penalties ever seen.
While they have not set the tournament alight yet, they remain unbeaten and their defence, a big question-mark heading into the Copa, has answered every call.
The central defensive partnership of Martin Demichelis and Nicolas Otamendi – who has both Manchester City and Manchester United on alert, as he is set to leave Valencia this summer – have been solid. The biggest issue may be with the full-backs. Pablo Zabaleta, while useful going forward, often gets caught out of position and Manchester United’s Marcus Rojo, who missed a penalty in Argentina’s shootout with Colombia, has struggled for both club and country.
Yet their attacking prowess is well documented. Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain pose Martino a headache: how does he involve them all and play them in their best positions? The dynamic is an awkward one.
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Tevez, when he can get into the side, is playing a position far deeper than where he is most effective, and the only certainties on the team-sheet are Messi and Javier Mascherano, who is the glue in the central midfield that allows the creative players to do their thing.
Paraguay don’t have a great pedigree but they do play with heart. While they may have it within them to topple Argentina, their record against La Albiceleste is not a good one. In 104 meetings between the two sides, the Paraguayans have tasted victory on just 15 occasions, suffering 58 defeats.
We see this as being Argentina’s coming-out party, even though Paraguay will stack plenty of bodies behind the ball. An early goal will settle the favourites and will open the game up.
VERDICT: ARGENTINA 3 PARAGUAY 1 @ 14.50
BEST BET: PARAGUAY TO SCORE @ 2.10
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